There was once a lady trapped in the dark, with naught but her shadow for company. So begins the launch trailer of the beautifully melancholic indie game, Shady Part of Me from Douze Dixiemes.
Shady Part of Me is an instantly striking narrative puzzle game. With overtones of classics such as Limbo and Contrast, with a dash of American McGee’s Alice games, you make your way across the world by cleverly using light and shadow to make your path, all the while feeling like you’re caught in a nightmare with something unknowable and overbearing on your heels.
As in Contrast, Shady Part of Me is played out over two worlds: a linear 3D world where the lady lives, and it’s associated world of shadows. Unfortunately, the lady is terribly afraid of the light, doing her best to live in the shadows where it’s safe. But her shadow — her only real friend — is the polar opposite, made of darkness but defined by the the light. This forms the crux of the gameplay — how do you get one character, who can only move in the darkness, to create a path for a character who can only move in the light, and vice versa?
This dichotomy also forms the backbone of the game’s narrative. This fear of the light has left the lady ostracised and alone. She appears to be caught in a nightmare. Or an orphanage. Or an asylum. It’s not explained and as you progress, your room grows padding and the world becomes increasingly esoteric. All you really know is that both the lady and her shadow are desperately trying to make their way to the exit and finally leave their prison.
These two characters, however, are not totally alone. Throughout the game, they are constantly being talked at by the enigmatic ‘The Other’, who you can only assume to be her therapist. He seems to know both the lady and her shadow, and although he seems to be trying to help, neither of our protagonists are particularly keen, or trustful, of him. All they have is each other.
And so the two characters work together to leave the nightmare they have found themselves in. The shadow world is obviously heavily reliant on what happens in the real world — so if the lady moves a box, for example, a shadow will move, shrink or grow, relative to the box’s position in relation to the light source. In this way, the lady helps her shadow.
But this isn’t a one-sided exchange. Fortunately, the shadow can flip the switches she finds, activating mechanisms in the real world which open doors and move lights to create tunnels of darkness. And in this way, the shadow helps the lady.
The connection between these two worlds — the interplay between light and dark — makes makes for an intriguing puzzle game. Although it is challenging at times, it’s never unbeatable. There is a handy time rewind mechanic which comes in handy as you try out different solutions, meaning that you never really fear failure.
The real challenge comes from picking up the origami birds scattered about both worlds, which requires a bit more work than merely running towards the ending — on several occasions I found myself pondering the solution and trying to do mental backflips to visualise how to get from A to B.
These origami birds are linked to a series of puzzles that are pieced together on the pause menu, but they don’t really add anything tangible to the game, which is a shame. Given that the ending gets Steven Kinged — ending in a completely nonsensical way that adds a new god-level mechanic that answers absolutely nothing — it’s a bit of an oversight that collecting these birds didn’t give more exposition.
However, for all my criticisms of the narrative, I absolutely adore the art direction here, which is executed flawlessly. The lady is so far removed from those around her that her people around her that they are portrayed as robots made of china or sculpted out of stone.
The sound design is equally commedable, with noticeable differences depending on which world you find yourself in. Although there is a change of colour, with the shadow world having cooler blue tones than the ‘real’ world, it’s the shift between the bass and treble as you switch characters which is particularly enjoyable.
But it is how the lady gets past her crippling fear with a little help from her those who stick by her that really hits home. The lady’s anxiety is palpable and her mental health struggles feel real and genuine. This is all helped by Hannah Murray’s excellent voice acting, which really takes the game to a whole new level.